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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where to Stay: Agriturismi in Italy

I know I said my last post on our weekend in the Amalfi Coast would be my last post on our summer road trip, but bear with me and hear me out on this definite last, short post.

I don't usually write about our hotel stays on our many trips throughout Italy because, frankly, what Italy has in beautiful sights, amazing food, and culture, it lacks in affordable hotel accommodations. In fact, I've only ever written one post on this subject: about our agriturismo stay in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. To this day, it is still our favorite.

Until we got to the Amalfi Coast, that is.

I talk about agriturismi a lot on the blog and I've never really explained what they are. In English, I guess the best translation would be a farm stay, but I don't like that term too much. For me at least it conjured up an image of a dilapidated red barn house in the middle of an Ohio cornfield where you have a haystack for a bed. In Italy, a farm stay is much more picturesque, especially if you're in the Tuscan countryside, or in our case, the Campania region in southern Italy.

Agriturismo Nonno Tobia is located in a town called Agerola, near the Amalfi Coast. By the time we started looking for a place to stay in Amalfi, any hope of a cheap HomeAway apartment was long gone and the only thing available were hotels at ridiculously expensive Amalfi Coast prices. So we found Nonno Tobia, which ended up being less than an hour away from Amalfi and Positano by car, and also within an hour drive to many of Campania's major tourist attractions like Pompeii and Naples.




We rented two rooms, both absolutely adorable. The rooms are named after flowers with a different, corresponding color scheme. Both our rooms also had these great balconies with flowers and a view of the ocean in the distance (that was my one requirement when looking for a place to stay in the Amalfi Coast: I had to be able to see the ocean).


The one thing that set this agriturismo apart from all the other ones we've stayed at was service. That Italian hospitality everyone wants to experience when they come to Italy? We definitely got it here. When we arrived we were greeted by the most handsome and friendly German Shepherd, who immediately fell in love with Arya of course. The owner's son immediately began engaging us in conversation as soon as we got out of car. He gave us tips on where to park and where to eat in Positano and Amalfi, and he even offered to take care of Arya on the day we went to Positano! Up until that point (and since then), we have never been so well taken care of!


Arya's boyfriend
We had breakfast and dinner, both absolutely spectacular! Breakfast consisted of coffee, tea, two different types of freshly squeezed juice, and an assortment of homemade bread and pastries. Dinner was the standard multiple course Italian dinner, with an antipasto of hams and cheeses, a primi of pasta, and a secondo sausages with veggies. All this was home cooked, washed down with wine produced by agriturismo, dessert (of course!), a shot of limoncello and coffee. We also got to have dinner with the other guests and the owners would come and go to chat. We had to translate most of the conversation for Carolina and Joaquin, but they loved this experience best of all the places we stayed at while we were on the road with them.

The Dining Room set for breakfast.



Jaime and I usually stay in agriturismi if we can and we would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a different travel experience in Italy. However, they aren't for everyone and it would definitely depend on what you want to see during your vacation in Italy. Here I've thought up of some pros and cons of staying in a typical Italian agriturismo:

  • Pro: Affordability. This is the number one reason we choose to stay in agriturismi 90% of the time. They usually have high and low season prices, sometimes broken on a per night basis and other times on a per person, per night basis. You can expect to pay as low as 25€ per person or maybe 40€ and up if its on a per night basis. 
  • Pro: When in Rome...If you want to stay in Italy like a local, this is what the locals do when they go on a weekend trip to the countryside. 
  • Pro: Traditional food. In order for an agriturismo to be labelled as an agriturismo in Italy under tax laws, they must produce, use, and sell a certain percentage of typical regional specialities. This will include everything from the veggies, to the fruits and the jams they make with that food, to the olives and olive oil, and of course, the wine. If your agriturismo offers you dinner, take it! It will likely be the most authentic, homemade meal you will experience in Italy. 
  • Con: It's not a hotel, so don't expect 5 star service. What I mean by this is depending on which agriturismo you choose (and what you're paying) sometimes they might not wifi (or even regular cell phone service is its very remote), sometimes they might not make up your bed every morning, and you're definitely not going to get 800 count Egyptian Cotton bedsheets. At least not in any of the agriturismi we have stayed at, but we have seen some really luxurious-looking ones! The good news: they're never as bad as a hostel and you can count on heated water and a heater in the winter. 
  • Con: You will not find an agriturismo in the middle of Florence. These places are always outside of cities, although how far away from the city really depends on you. This also means...
  • Con: You will need a car. The fact that you would need a car is really the biggest drawback to choosing to stay in an agriturismo if you're coming to Italy for a few weeks. This is because if what you are looking for is to save money on an expensive city hotel, you might actually be paying more in gas and rental car prices by staying outside the city. But really, this all depends on where you want to go, the kind of liberty of movement that you want, and how many people you are traveling with.  
If you want to browse different agriturismi in all parts of Italy, check out this website, which is where we find all the agriturismi we stay at!



Disclaimer: We were not compensated in any way by the kind folks of Agriturismo Nonno Tobia. All our opinions are our own. Unless otherwise stated, I receive no compensation from the places I mention in this blog. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Our Weekend in the Amalfi Coast

I thought about breaking this part of our road trip down into several posts, but the truth is if I do that I'm going to be talking about our summer adventures deep into winter (thanks to my procrastination, of course). Instead, I've decided to just do a big hefty post on our weekend in the Amalfi Coast.

After we visited Florence (which I'm not actually writing about since we did much of the same things we did on our first time in Florence), we made our way back to Rome. We spent one day resting and taking care of some housekeeping (read: washing clothes from nine days on the road) then we hit the road again and headed south to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. I have yet to write about our two times in Naples because honestly I'm still trying to figure out what to make of that complicated city (all I know is that there is nothing in the world like Neapolitan pizza... nothing). 

We stayed at an agriturismo near the actual Amalfi Coast, which boasts a very central location to many of Campania's star attractions like Pompeii, Naples, and all of the towns of the Amalfi Coast. On our first day there, we went to go see the Amalfi Coast's most famous town: Positano. 

Here's what you need to know about Positano: it was a medieval port that suffered through a declining period, then became an extremely popular tourist attraction from the 1950s onward, when John Steinbeck wrote an article about it in Harper's Bazaar. It's been in several films, like Under the Tuscan Sun, and most importantly: it's incredibly beautiful. 

Jaime & I on the Amalfi port waiting for the boat to take us to Positano. 

"I'm on a boat" selfie!
We arrived in Positano by boat, which we took from the actual village of Amalfi. According to our agriturismo host, it was much cheaper to park in Amalfi than in Positano. This might have been true if we weren't four people, as we had to pay for four kinda pricey boat tickets. That's just the price we had to pay to see one of Italy's most expensive coastlines. 

The best part of coming in by boat is that the view is unparalleled. 





One of the things I wanted to do in Positano was buy pre-made sandals at La Botteguccia (here's a video by Browsing Italy showing you how it's done) as Positano is known for sandal-making. There are lots of different places to buy them from, but they usually have roughly the same prices and the same models. It's not exactly cheap (mine were about €45), but if you're like me and buying sandals is always a hassle because of too-skinny feet, it is definitely worth it. 


After my shopping was done, we decided to hit the beach. There are two beaches in Positano: Spiaggia Grande which is the one you see when you're coming in by boat, and the smaller Spiaggia Fornillo. We chose the latter assuming it would be less crowded. It was a little bit of a trek to get there and unfortunately the weather was not cooperating with us (it was super windy, cloudy, and it eventually rained on us while we waited for the return boat). 


The Amalfi Coast is made up of quite a few villages staring with Positano in the west and ending with Vietri sul Mare in the east. With only two days to explore, we obviously would not be able to see it all, so the next day we decided on visiting Ravello. Jaime decided on Ravello that day and I have to admit I was quite surprised. Ravello is known for two villas: Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone. I didn't expect the gardens to be quite as beautiful as they were and I certainly didn't expect that we'd be allowed to take Arya with us. In the end, I'm glad we decided to go there as the views were magnificent and we had a great time. 




The boys mocking us. 


The Terrace of the Infinite in Villa Cimbrone. 

A silly pose that actually came out awesome with my dress blowing in the wind!


Hydrangeas: one of my favorites in Villa Cimbrone!

We took the long way back to Rome (it might also have been the only way), driving through the famous Amalfi Coast highway that hugs the coastline and gives you amazing views of all the towns. It's one of National Geographic's 500 Drives of a Lifetime! It's also known for being terrifying and dangerous as it's a two way highway that is super narrow and always filled with tour buses. 

Arya loves it when she's in the passenger seat on a road trip!


View of the town of Amalfi. 

No photoshop, the water was just that blue!

No idea what this church's name was, but it was very pretty. 
That's all for our weekend in the Amalfi Coast and my last post on our awesome Summer road trip with Carolina and Joaquin!



For other posts on our summer roadtrip, check out:



Treasure Tromp

Monday, October 13, 2014

Photo Diary of Pisa

We've been to Pisa two times and for some reason I haven't blogged about it. The first time was back in March the weekend we went to Viareggio's Carnevale and the second time was during our summer road trip, one the way to Florence from Cinque Terre. The real reason is simply that it was really....not a bid deal. *cue the angry outbursts*. I really hesitate when I'm writing this blog to proclaim something boring or disappointing, specially in reference to Italy. People usually have some very strong feelings about this country for some reason, whether they've been to it or not, and you simply do not get away with calling one of Italy's most well-known landmarks "no big deal."

But I've decided to conquer my fears of being attacked by a mob and tell you the way I really felt about Pisa. To me, it has been a place to stop on the way to another destination, not the destination itself. By all means, if you just need to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and take wacky pictures with it, then make it a stop on your trip to Italy, but really that's the only thing there is to do there.

All that being said, one thing that has stood out on our trips to Pisa has been this super cute little sandwich place not too far from the Leaning Tower called L'Ostellino. The two times we've gone has been around lunchtime and these €5 sandwiches hit the spot. All fresh ingredients, about 10 pages of different ham and cheese combinations and some good ol' Tuscan wine to wash it all down. The only downside is that it's a very tiny place so there's not much room to sit down, especially if you come at peak hours. If you're looking for a cheap lunch in Pisa, this is the place to go to (you can find it on Yelp or TripAdvisor)!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, in Italian called La Torre Pendente di Pisa is the bell tower of the cathedral of Pisa, which as most people know, is unintentionally tilted to one side due to the lack of adequate foundation. It is a UNESCO site, part of Pisa's Piazza del Duomo along with the baptistry and the Camposanto Monumentale (the cemetery), and the Cathedral itself.

Here are some of the pictures we took that day, as well as a panoramic shot I had saved from the first time we visited in back in March.

iPhone Panoramic from a rainy day in March. 

Obviously we had to have some fun with this.

Obviously!

Thankfully, the second time we went the weather was much more agreeable. 


Thanks for reading!

If you want to see more of our Summer Road Trip, check out:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tips for Visiting Cinque Terre, PLUS Cinque Terre Sunset Pictures!

They say Italians are not the best at being on time, but I beg to differ. There's one aspect about Italy that is usually very on time and that is the weather. Last week while we were staying in the little town of Lerici on the Italian Riviera, there was beautiful summer beach weather right up to October 1st. That morning, the dark clouds came rolling in, the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees and the weather said, "I gave you guys September, but now it's time to finally pack up those swimsuits and bring on the jackets!"

Autumn is now in full swing with noticeably cooler temperatures (great news for our no-AC house) and Italians dressed up in their boots and marshmallow jackets. We're finally back in Rome and that means I'm back to blogging comfortably from our home office with no Jaime breathing down my neck about wanting the computer :). Just kidding, I love him.

Even though fall is here, I'm not quite ready to stop dreaming about our amazing summer in Italy. So today, I'll be continuing our summer road trip to Italy with our last day in Cinque Terre. I hope you guys aren't too tired about reading this because these are my favorite pictures of the whole weekend!



The last village we visited was the southernmost village of Riomaggiore. For me, Riomaggiore tied with Manarola for picturesque-ness (nice word, huh?). When we exited the train station, we were almost immediately welcomed by the main road that leads directly to the bay, where people were swimming. We walked around a little bit, ate lunch, snapped a few pictures, and then decided to quickly go back to the hotel and change into our bathing suits to take advantage of the sun and the water.

How cute was this sign? Notice "Chemist's Shop" is the pharmacy. 

Before we switched to our bathing suits 
We spent the afternoon laying on the rocks and swimming (well, Jaime, Carolina & Joaquin were swimming, I was tanning and going camera trigger-happy). I could've spent days taking pictures of this village, it was that beautiful.

He loves me. 
We were looking good!

We stayed until sunset, and that's when I could've died and gone to heaven. The sun sets to the left of the village if you're looking at it from the rocks, illuminating the edges of the colorful houses. If you're going to take pictures, you definitely need to know some technical settings on the camera to get the perfect shot.

Sigh. 

One of my favorites Joaquin took of me with his iPhone. 
We had a blast taking pictures, while another couple had dinner and drank wine a few rocks away from us (Carolina and I were swooning at the guy's romantic gestures).

Jaime's Camera shot. 

Cute selfie. Jaime's look of concentration is hilarious.
I definitely recommend visiting Cinque Terre if you're planning a trip to Italy during the summer. Here are also a few things we learned (and we could've done better) on our weekend in Cinque Terre:



1. Where to Stay. Plan in advance. By in advance, I mean like at least 6 months before, especially if you're planning a trip overseas. By the time we were looking to book a place to stay, most of the decently priced Home Away apartments in Cinque Terre were booked, so we had to stay in La Spezia, a small city near Riomaggiore. While taking a train into Cinque Terre was no big deal (it was only a 10 minute trip to Riomaggiore), La Spezia is not the first picture you want in your memory of Cinque Terre. Plus, our hotel was horrible, but that's another story. Our advice is to stay in Cinque Terre, even if it's a little more expensive. It's nicer and you'll probably end up making up the difference in travel fare in the long run.

2. Transportation. Cinque Terre is a National Park, so you cannot drive inside each of the villages. However, you can drive to each village and park outside, which we did on our last day. Depending on the time of year you're going and the number of people in your family it might just be cheaper to do that then buy the Cinque Terre card that gives you unlimited train access to the villages.

3. Cinque Terre Card. A note on the Cinque Terre card: for access to just the hiking trails, the card costs 7.50€ for one day and 14.50€ for two days (adult fare). For that plus unlimited train access between the villages (and La Spezia) it's 12€ for one day and 23€ for two days. You can see that it's not exactly cheap. If you're not planning on hiking the trails (especially since about half the main hiking trail has been closed due to the storms that battered the villages in 2011), it's almost not worth it to buy the card and just pay for individual train tickets. Like I said, you need to do a thorough cost estimation of what you're going to need for your specific situation. On our part, we bought the Cinque Terre card thinking that we might do the hiking trails and we ended up not using them except for the train, so we barely broke even.

4. Relax and have fun! There's not a ton of things to do in Cinque Terre except soak up the sun, eat some good food, and drink some amazing wine. And that's okay! You're not wasting your vacation if you don't spend every moment of it standing in some line to get into some museum. You're still seeing first hand a piece of Italy that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world!

Thanks for reading and if you like any of the pictures, don't forget to pin them for travel inspiration! I'll also post up more pictures of Cinque Terre on My Napoleon Complex's Facebook page.

If you want to read past posts about our Summer Road trip through Italy, check out: 

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